Vignettes On Listening

The Zookeeper

As I signed in at the school, there was some commotion. A tall teenage boy stomped into reception and plonked himself down on one of the sofa chairs.

The walkie talkie behind reception started asking where the boy was. His whereabouts were given, with a sympathetic look to the boy.

He should not be there.

I sat opposite him and as I unwrapped my scarf and took off my wool hat, invited him to speak.

“What happened?”

He’d got upset. He didn’t mean to. He didn’t mean to pick up the chair. He felt like he could have thrown the chair. He worried that he could have hurt the other student.

He spoke with half fear half disgust at what his own anger could lead to.

Let’s change the subject.

“What do you want to be in the future?”

He went bright red. Whispered something.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t quite hear…”


“That’s AMAZING!!!”

We talked at length about all the kinds of things he might do as a zookeeper. He has a YouTube channel too – lots of the kids in his class watch his videos. What about making a YouTube channel about the animals at the zoo? Wouldn’t that be amazing? I would absolutely watch that.

I told him that I know he’s going to be a zookeeper one day. He just has to learn to control his anger a little first. Listen to the teachers. They’re here to help.

I know you’ll get there.

Finally caught by the teacher, the zookeeper went back to where he was supposed to be.

Reslilience Listening

I know a wonderful lady called Sarah. She works with all kinds of people to map out their motiviations, helping guide their ship to where it wants to be.

Sarah very kindly came to a school to speak with some students for me a while ago. When she arrived, she stood from her electric wheelchair and slowly made her way to the front.

Sarah speaks a little slowly, and the things she says are important to listen to.

I didn’t know the students from this particilar school well, so I worried slightly that they would be impatient at the speed of her speech and would not properly listen to what she had to say.

However, the students sat silently, listening. When words took their time, they didn’t even blink. Hanging onto her every word, they listened to Sarah speak about the time she went trekking in South America, and how she overcomes every hurdle she is faced with, to be the person she is today.

Sarah inspired them that day, and I had underestimated the strength of the students’ listening resilience.

I was reminded of Sarah and these students recently, when an academic came to speak with some students I work with now. The things he spoke about were really complicated, much more advanced than a regular teen would be able to follow. What’s more, he had a heavy accent.

The combination of the tough subject matter, as well as the accent, made it a challenge for the students – but a really important one for them to face. I wondered how many times we challenge ourselves to grow our listening resilience. Whether it’s listening to something we don’t quite follow, or to someone who speaks differently to us, who is important to learn from.

I wonder how I can encourage students to practice listening resilience more often, so they are ready and prepared to hear important things from people who have a different way of speaking.


“Because all women are a bit mental”


“Don’t mind me, I’m throwing in casual sexism to see how you would react”

I didn’t take the bait. I was trying to progress to a second date without being as judgemental as I usually am. Perhaps he’s just being nervous and awkward?

So, despite the causual comments, we set up to eat cheese on Friday night.

On the way home, he wanted to talk about The Advert.

“It’s really very hard to be a white man right now, we have to be so careful of what we do. What’s more, this advert is telling us that traditional flirting techniques are not allowed!! A study showed that MOST WOMEN enjoy being hit on in public! So what are we meant to do??”

“I don’t doubt that it’s very challenging to be confronted with so much cultural change. However, I think it’s a good opportunity for people to listen to others who have been on the receiving end of these kinds of situations and really look at how we can make things different”

“But you’re not listening to me! How can I be priviledged when I’m in such a low paid job – I don’t even own my car, my dad bought it for me!”

“The advert isn’t speaking to you personally, it’s speaking to a group of people who have had priviledge for a long time. Even as white and straight people we should be looking at times when what we are gives us an unfair advantage”

“I’m just a nice guy – I’m probably too nice. You wouldn’t have an advert like this singling out Turkish people, or Jamacian people – why is it OK to single out white men?”

“I think it’s time to change the subject”

“But you’re not listening to me!”

Sometimes we have to remind ourselves of that is – and is not – our responsibility. This guy’s mindset is not my responsibility.

Needless to say, we did not see each other again. By the time I had driven home, I had been blocked on WhatApp. The conversation was over.


  1. My .02 regarding the Gillette ad is that the men who are complaining the loudest are the ones most in need of hearing its message. We can do better. #YesAllMen.
    Steven recently posted…That’s a wrap, 2018!My Profile

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